Food safety guidelines will be ramped up to try to win back consumer confidence following the outbreak of listeria in rockmelons, the Australian Melon Association says.
Industry development manager Dianne Fullelove said the association was working directly with growers to ensure stringent sanitisation, hygiene and record-keeping standards were in place.
“These are guidelines that we’ve had in the industry for many years,” she said.
“They’re hazard analysis critical control point processes that ensure food is safe to eat so consumers can feel confident in the product we’re putting on shelves.”
Ms Fullelove said the industry was funding individual support for growers to ensure food safety systems met the guidelines.
“We have very good food safety guidelines already in Australia,” she said.
“We need them to be implemented at the very best level that we can.
Exact cause of outbreak still being determined
The NSW Food Authority has conducted tests to identify the exact cause of the outbreak, which has been traced to Rombola Family Farms in the Riverina region.
Ms Fullelove said she anticipated the results would be available next week.
“We’re hopeful after that to receive some information about what might have been the cause of the contamination,” she said.
“Growers are very concerned. They want to know where it went wrong so they can make any changes in their system if necessary.
“Every farm is different, every packing shed is different, so there’s never going to be one-size-fits-all, so we feel that the growers will benefit from having that one-on-one assistance.”
Industry faces $60m in losses
It is estimated southern region growers have already lost at least $15 million since the outbreak, but Ms Fullelove said that figure could rise.
“If we don’t restart the market before the northern season comes online we are looking at losses of up to $60m,” she said.
“It’s absolutely important that consumers are buying rockmelons … the product is good, it is safe to eat.
Ms Fullelove said there was a risk the losses would flow through to regional economies.
“When we’re not farming we don’t have workers working on the farm, we don’t have transport companies taking product, we don’t have box manufacturers selling boxes,” she said.
“It’s a huge ripple effect through all of those communities.”
She said the recovery would not be quick, but there was a commitment to ensuring the industry survived.
“For growers it’s a very serious situation … this is a massive challenge but people have come together to do this,” she said.
“We’ve got great support with all of the retailers and wholesalers in the central markets.
“We’re working very closely with the state health departments to ensure that our product is safe.”